The Magic Pill

a Letter to Fr. Brière, deceased MH priest

Here is another Restoration classic. This one I came across quite by “accident”, while I was looking for something else. Or did God bring me to it—for you?

the editor

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Dear Father B:

Yesterday, when I stopped at the rectory, Fr. X asked me if I would tell him some time what my secret for happiness was. He said I always seemed so happy. He wanted to know if there was some magic pill I took.

Oh, I thought, if you only knew what my life was really like, how much pain I’ve endured and how much I’ve struggled. His impression of me seemed so wrong, so superficial.

Or was it? Maybe what Father X saw was the exterior manifestation of the joy and peace God has placed in my soul. I thought about Catherine Doherty. How would she have answered Father’s question about the secret for happiness?

In any case, here is what came to me and what I in turn passed on to my friend:

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Dear Father,

I’ve been thinking about your question as to whether I had some secret pill for energy and overall happiness.

The incredible thing is that I wasn’t feeling particularly energetic yesterday. In fact, I have this terrible cold and I just found out that I may have some serious eye problems. My back has been acting up lately, and we’ve been hit with some tough family problems—serious illnesses, a recent death, etc.

But I think I can answer your question, because I’ve asked that same question myself a hundred times, and I didn’t find an answer until I stepped into the life of Catherine Doherty.

She had tremendous energy, and despite the intense physical and emotional pain she had to face, she had an inner peace and happiness that somehow seemed to spill out and touch other people.

I thought about how Catherine would have answered your question about the secret of energy and overall happiness. I think she would say the secret is:

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Step 1. To embrace pain.

To accept and embrace all of the pain that enters your life—the physical pain, the emotional pain, the spiritual pain, loneliness, rejection, sorrow, you name it—and  not to just endure it, but to really embrace it. To accept that pain as a gift from God will make you grow in love and understanding of God, yourself, and others.

But you have to believe with all your heart that God is with you in your pain, that he has permitted this pain and that something good will come from it, even if you can’t begin to imagine what that good could be.

This kind of faith comes only through constant prayer that God open our minds to this truth.

Even then, it’s hard, and you begin to think you can’t bear it anymore. But that’s when you go to the foot of the Cross and unite your pain to that of Christ. You begin to see your pain in relation to Christ’s painful yet infinitely peaceful, love-filled offering.

This love enables you to trust, to die to yourself and then God can transform and resurrect you.

Only by embracing pain can you ever find true joy and peace. And once you’ve found that inner joy, you begin to bubble over with it. You want to reach out to other people.

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Step 2. To begin to see Christ in every person.

How can you not be happy to see other people when you believe that you are touching Christ? Sometimes it’s not easy. The other person might be lonely or afraid or in pain or just plain ornery.

Sometimes you have to forgive that person or ask for forgiveness before you find Christ in him or her.

It can be very difficult, very painful. You can’t do it yourself, because of your own human weakness, so you have to beg God to empty you of your own negative thoughts or painful memories or selfish feelings. Then God can work through you to touch the other person.

The key is to be always conscious of the fact that God loves everyone, and that requires openness and humility which only come with surrendering your will to God’s will.

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Step 3. To surrender your will to God’s will.

So much unhappiness in life comes from trying to control your own life and other people’s lives, from trying to change other people’s ideas and attitudes, from trying to avoid pain, and from trying to get what you want as opposed to discovering what God wants for you.

So the key is to stop wasting all that energy on trying to be in control and let God take over. Trust God. Listen to the Spirit. And believe with all your heart that God loves you and wants you to share in his peace and in his joy. Again, this is a grace that is given through humble prayer.

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Step 4. To be grateful to God for everything.

The times when you have to concentrate the most on being grateful are the times when it’s the hardest, when you’re in pain or on the edge of despair.

The only way to turn that around is to say, yes, these horrible things are happening, but there must be something in my life that I can thank God for—even if it’s the trees or the sunshine or the fact that I have enough to eat that day or that I have a roof over my head.

When you start looking for things to thank God for, you force your problems into the proper perspectives.

You begin to see that God has given you so many things, and in some strange sort of way, you find the courage to accept your problems and your pain—and sometimes even be grateful for them—because you know that God does turn everything, even the most depressing, horrible things into good. But he can do that only if you allow him to do so.

Once you understand and accept all this, you’re back at step one, and it starts all over, because you’ve found the courage to embrace pain, which enables you to move onto step two, where you can start looking for Christ in other people, etc., etc.

It’s not exactly a pill, but it is a lot to swallow. When you finally do swallow it, however, it really does grow inside you and bubble over, and nothing is ever the same again, because you have a kind of supernatural energy that is fueled by God’s love for you and for other people.

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Father thanked me for the letter. We talked about it very briefly, and he said that it was a tough pill to swallow. He said it’s too bad there isn’t an easier way, a sweeter pill.

But then you wouldn’t know this immense joy of being one with Jesus in his loving surrender to the Father, in his loving offering for the salvation of all; and the joy wouldn’t last.

Reprinted from Restoration, March 1991